Former President Jair Bolsonaro returned to Brazil on Thursday after a three-month stay in Florida, seeking a new role in politics and as authorities in the capital prepared for the return of the right-wing populist leader.
Hundreds of supporters dressed in yellow and green chanted while waiting in the country’s capital, Brasilia, where the far-right leader is the subject of several investigations. The Federal District security secretariat mobilized hundreds of police officers and the Esplanade of the Ministries was closed to avoid crowds of Bolsonaro supporters.
Bolsonaro left Brazil just before his term ended. In doing so, he broke with tradition of handing over the presidential sash to his successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who won the October election by the closest margin since Brazil’s return to democracy some three decades earlier.
During his time in the United States, Bolsonaro generally kept a low profile, although he gave several speeches to Brazilian expatriates and conservatives, including one at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.
For the first time in 30 years, the lawmaker-turned-president was not holding elected office.
“I am without a mandate, but I am not retired,” Bolsonaro told the Jovem Pan television network on Monday.
Before boarding a flight to Brazil from Orlando International Airport, he told Brazil that he did not plan to lead the political opposition to Lula, a claim not believed by his allies.
Hundreds of supporters gathered early Thursday morning at the Brasilia International Airport. They chanted against Lula and repeated the slogan of a protest that sparked the dictatorship in Brazil between 1964 and 1985: God, family and freedom.
However, they could not see the ex-president leaving through the main exit and instead braved the morning traffic to gather outside the headquarters of his Liberal Party to show their enthusiasm.
“Bolsonaro was the best president we have ever had, I have never seen a government like his,” said Marinalva Wanderley, 71, who brought five members of her family from Sao Paulo to the Liberal Party headquarters. “I think she was in the United States with Donald Trump to see what is best for Brazil and the United States. We will have much greater opposition (to Lula), that’s for sure”.
Bolsonaro was expected to speak to lawmakers in a private meeting later on Thursday. His party said in a statement that he was not expected to give a speech.
A horde of supporters of the former president stormed and ransacked the capital’s most important government buildings on January 8, a week after Lula took office, in an attempt to overthrow the new president.
Bolsonaro’s efforts to return to the political front line could be hampered by several investigations, including one into whether he instigated the January 8 uprising. Recent revelations from the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper about three boxes of valuable jewelry allegedly delivered to Bolsonaro by Saudi Arabia have exposed the former president to further legal risk.
His return to Brazil has been delayed several times and some had speculated that he could postpone it indefinitely due to his legal problems. Steve Bannon, a longtime Trump ally and considered a strategist for the global right, told the Brazilian daily Folha de S.Paulo this week that Bolsonaro should never have left the country, downplaying the investigations.
Now that Bolsonaro is back, his first goal will be to mobilize opposition to Lula’s government, said Mayra Goulard da Silva, a political scientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
“Bolsonaro decided to return to Brazil because a clear leader in opposition to the government has not appeared,” Da Silva said. Otherwise, the gap could have been filled by someone else, he noted.
Next year’s municipal elections are an important step to gain political momentum ahead of a possible presidential campaign in 2026. Bolsonaro is expected to back mayoral candidates from the Liberal Party who, if successful, can then use his position to bolster him. .
In addition to the diamond investigations, Bolsonaro is the subject of a dozen investigations by Brazilian electoral courts for his actions in last year’s election campaign, especially for his unsubstantiated claims that the electronic voting system was vulnerable to fraud. If he is convicted in any of those cases, he would be politically disqualified from running in the next elections.
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